Valentin Balanovskiy. Priorities of Kant Studies for the Next Decade

Direction into the future is typical for philosophy. The debate during the last XI Kant Readings only confirmed the Promethean status of the love of wisdom. At the conference, there was much talk about the future of humanity, the country, the region and even the university. Often this general state of mind shaped into the thought that there are only 10 years left to prepare for Kant’s 300th anniversary.

It is customary to prepare for anniversaries in advance, and it is considered indecent to come to an anniversary empty-handed. In my opinion, the best gift that global scientific community can give to Kant’s 300th anniversary is to bring Kant Studies to a new level of development. But how can we do it? In what direction should we work? Which priorities need to be addressed? In an attempt to answer these questions, the idea arose to hold a survey under the auspices of Kant Institute among Kant researches. The respondents were supposed to assume what goals of Kant studies should be achieved in the nearest ten years.

The first responses to the survey were received during the Kant Readings. Then communication with the experts continued in absentia. Most of the responses were received by the end of July.

There are several reasons the form of expert survey was chosen to determine the priority tasks that need to be resolved for the 300th anniversary of Kant’s birth. The main one is that it requires not an average indicator, but rather a balanced position of researchers who have studied Kant for years. The opinion of each scientist is unique and important, and it cannot be neglected.

Another reason is a technical one. At present conducting a standard sociological research that implies the knowledge of the approximate number and geographical allocation of Kant researchers in the world is difficult. As far as I know, such information does not exist yet in the accumulated form. Therefore, it seemed the best way out of the situation to hold a personal expert survey, at least for preliminary results.

Since the idea was born during the last Kant readings, naturally, most of the experts were the scientists who regularly take part in these events and have extensive experience in the study of Kantian heritage. The rest of the respondents are researchers well known outside their own countries who have never participated in the Kantian seminars and conferences held in Kaliningrad. Obviously, the response rate was lower in this category of experts. Therefore, every time one of them sent back a completed questionnaire, it gave a double joy.

One of the challenges for this type of survey is that knowledge of the promising areas of any science is a competitive advantage for scientists. Therefore, not every researcher is willing to share their notion of future demand with others. However, I believe that this story, which is characteristic for science as an activity in Kuhn’s and Lakatos’s conceptions, does not apply to Kant heritage researchers, who together contribute to the common cause and are willing to help each other in the pursuit of truth.

Completing my introduction, I would like to sincerely thank once again the experts who responded to my letters and participated in the survey, namely:

Dr. Y. Akimoto (Germany), Professor V. Belov (Russia), Professor M. Castillo (France), Dr. M. De Paula Oliveira (Brazil), Professor N. Dmitrieva (Russia), Professor B. Dörflinger (Germany), Professor V. Gilmanov (Russia), Professor P. Giordanetti (Italy), Professor D. Heidemann (Luxembourg), Professor R. Howell (USA), Dr. D. Hüning (Germany), Professor L. Kalinnikov (Russia), Dr. A. Kislov (Russia), Professor A. Krouglov (Russia), Professor N. Motroshilova (Russia), Dr. O. Mukhutdinov (Russia), Professor H. Nakamura (Japan), Dr. Ch. Onof (UK), Professor S. Palmquist (China), Professor T. Rockmore (China), Dr. M. Ruffing (Germany), Professor T. Rumyantseva (Belarus), Prof. M. Soboleva (Austria), Professor G. Sorina (Russia), Prof. J. Stolzenberg (Germany), Dr. T. Teufel (US), Dr. H. Varden (USA), Professor H. Wagner (Germany), Professor M. Żelazny (Poland).

 

Experts

Questionnaires were sent to 70 scientists from 16 countries (Austria, Belarus, Brazil, China, Estonia, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Poland, Russia, Spain, Ukraine, and USA). 41% of the initially chosen respondents completed and returned the questionnaire, i.e. 29 scientists from 13 countries (Austria, Belarus, Brazil, China, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Poland, Russia, and USA). Most respondents operate in Russia (9 persons, 31%), Germany (6 persons, 20%) and the USA (3 persons, 10%).

The most sizeable group of respondents are researchers involved in Kant Studies for more than 30 but less than 40 years (8 persons, 27.5%). Followed by scientists who have dedicated more than 20 but less than 30 years of their life to Kant (7 persons, 24%), and Kant researchers with more than 10 but less than 20 years of experience (also 7 persons, 24%). The third position is shared by veterans who have studied Kant’s legacy for more than 40 years (6 persons, 20.5%). Thus, the vast majority of respondents (72%) have been passionate about Kant’s philosophy for over 20 years. Of all the respondents, Helmut Wagner and Robert Howell have the longest experience of studying Kant (over 50 years).

When filling out the questionnaire respondents could indicate several areas of their scientific interests. Therefore, the same researcher could present themselves as a specialist in the field of theoretical and political philosophy of Kant. Most often, the respondents indicated that they specialize in theoretical philosophy (11 persons, 38%), ethics (8 persons, 27.5%), philosophy of religion (5 persons, 17%), political philosophy (4 persons, 14%), philosophical anthropology (4 persons, 14%), aesthetics (3 persons, 10%), teleology (3 persons, 10%) and philosophy of Law (3 persons, 10%).

 

Results

All experts were asked the same question: “What main tasks need to be addressed in the nearest 10 years to bring Kant Studies to a new level of development?». The respondents were asked to highlight up to 3 key tasks, which finally accumulated to the total of 76.

Shifting to the analysis of the responses, I would like to note that summarizing them was quite problematic. Each expert is a unique researcher with their range of interests, vision of priorities and academic experience. This is quite understandable – the majority of respondents represent a whole scientific school. Therefore, approximately 50 of these 76 key tasks are irreducible to another (i.e., almost 2/3 of the highlighted tasks for the upcoming decade are unique in one way or another).

Conventionally, all tasks named by the respondents can be divided into two classes:

- Those relating to solving purely research problems;

- Those that address organizational or institutional research problems.

The research problems most frequently mentioned by experts can generally be reduced to the following three:

1) it is necessary to clearly define the status of the key concepts of “Critique of Judgment” and generally update Kant’s teleology for use in various fields of knowledge, including study of nature (Thomas Teufel, Robert Howell, Jürgen Stolzenberg, Vladimir Gilmanov, Maria De Paula Oliveira);

2) it is necessary to prove the compatibility of Kant’s views with modern science, to consider the foundations of modern science through the prism of Kant’s ideas and to answer the question of the relations between Kant’s discoveries and discoveries of modern science (Stephen Palmquist, Leonard Kalinnikov, Nina Dmitrieva, Alexei Kislov). Stephen Palmquist’s response is particularly detailed and vivid in this matter. He notes that modern Kant studies “need a clear and thorough demonstration of the compatibility of Kant’s theoretical philosophy with modern developments in the natural sciences, especially physics. The notion that certain key features of Kant’s theory of knowledge are incompatible with relativity physics and/or quantum mechanics, and that this somehow renders Kant’s position out-of-date, needs to be refuted once and for all, as it is based on a misunderstanding not only of Kant’s position but also of the nature and status of the relevant scientific revolutions, most (if not all) of which have had a deeply Kantian character”;

3) it is necessary to update the ideas of Kant in order to solve the political problems of our time, especially in light of the treatise “Perpetual Peace” (Helmut Wagner, Hiroo Nakamura, Miroslav Żelazny, Vladimir Gilmanov, Maria De Paula Oliveira). For example, Helmut Wagner encourages his colleagues to answer the question of how far the EU is from the Kantian idea of “eternal peace”. Maria De Paula Oliveira raises the question of the correlation between “the Kantian Philosophy of Law and the right of resistance: How to conform the Universal Principle of Right with the political sublimity of a Revolution”.

The following research tasks were named less frequently:

- deeper study of Kant’s Copernican Revolutions;

- proof of the possibility of transcendental idealism, including transcendental deduction of the categories. For example, Christian Onof suggests to answer the eternal question of analytic philosophy: how does transcendental idealism “represents a defensible metaphysical position?”;

- revision of Kant’s conception of autonomy, among other things in the light of modern transformations of society;

- more thorough investigation of the origins of the Kantian philosophy;

- logical and semantic reconstruction of Kant’s ideas, including practical philosophy.

In addition to the above, I would like to highlight another suggestion put forward by Stephen Palmquist who has worked in Hong Kong for a long time and can observe a growing interest in Kant from non-Western thinkers. He says that philosophers belonging to the Asian, African and Arab-Persian traditions “becoming more and more aware of Kant’s relevance, so Western philosophers will find themselves lagging behind if they do not, likewise, familiarize themselves with these other traditions”.

The organizational objectives most frequently mentioned by respondents include the following:

1) completion and updating of Academy Edition (Akademie-Ausgabe) and its translation into other languages. Some respondents also expressed the need to complete the German-Russian edition of Kant’s works and to publish in Russian the works of leading Kant researchers, introductions to the editions of Kant’s works and manuscripts of the philosopher, which is not very well known outside of Germany. These issues are vividly covered in the responses of Nelly Motroshilova, Leonard Kalinnikov, Dieter Hüning, Bernd Dörflinger, Miroslav Żelazny, Alexei Krouglov, Nina Dmitrieva;

2) promoting Kant’s heritage. For example, Leonard Kalinnikov stressed that “it requires some serious work from Kant researchers to show the advantages of the Kantian system in comparison with other areas and schools of philosophy in the modern world. It is necessary to realize these benefits and, of course, to promote Kant’s ideas much wider today, because the Kantian system expresses the ideas of our XXI century. It becomes obvious now that those achievements, problems and solutions proposed by Kant are not a utopia, but rather a program for the real action. Of course, it is necessary to clarify these ideas and establish the correlation with the current state of culture”. This view can be combined with Tatiana Rumyantseva’s suggestion of the establishment of an interesting tourist route to Kant-related places (IKBFU and the government of the Kaliningrad region are currently working on this) and increasing the availability of the philosopher’s works for everyone to study.

3) the creation of specialized institutions to study Kant’s heritage either in the form of chairs of German classical philosophy (Vladimir Belov) or in the form of scientific institutions, such as European Institute of Moral Politics (for instance, under the auspices of IKBFU) “in order to create educational opportunities for the preparation of new quality political, financial and economic elites on the basis of Kant’s critical philosophy. We should bring the meta-idea of this institution to the attention of` political, financial and educational institutions concerned in the Kaliningrad enclave in Russia, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Germany and other countries” (Vladimir Gilmanov); or in the form of specialized Kant institutes or regular seminars that would ensure the continuity of research work (Bernd Dörflinger); or in the form of permanent specialized seminars for young Kant researchers (which is already being implemented by Galina Sorina with Lomonosov MSU and IKBFU) or translators (Nelly Motroshilova).

4) enhancement of international academic exchange, learning German and support for Kant studies worldwide. Moreover, as noted by Vladimir Belov, knowledge of German is necessary not so much to read Kant in the original, but rather to “have the opportunity to get involved in the space of debate, which in German has been on for a long time”.

 

Conclusions

Despite the modest number of the questionnaire respondents, in my opinion, we can still draw some conclusions. Naturally, some of them are quite obvious. But it is always useful to have a justification in the form of very specific opinions of the experts highly respected in the scientific community.

First, according to most experts, the most important matters in the light of the upcoming 300th anniversary of Kant’s birth should be solving organizational and institutional research tasks, including the completion and updating of an Academy Edition as a most important source for all researchers; implementation of new translations; the creation of institutional preconditions for cooperation of scientists around the world to study the Kantian heritage, in Kaliningrad among other places. This should include Leonard Kalinnikov’s global task of “comprehension and generalization of the results that were obtained during the XX century in this area, especially in the last post-war 40 years, when Kant studies were revived and got to the forefront in the world of philosophical science. In light of these achievements we require the creation of new general works outlining the system as a whole. A lot of elaborations have been made separately concerning Kant’s certain ideas. Now we need new general works of a systemic nature. Older presentations of the system found in the works of Neo-Kantian researchers are in some respects outdated in the light of recent developments of Kant studies, and a new approach is needed”.

Implementation of the organizational objectives proposed by the respondents will help solve the problem, which was highlighted by Nelly Motroshilova and precisely formulated by Alexei Krouglov. In his questionnaire, he stressed that “there is also an internal problem of Kant studies hindering its further development. In the last century it has acquired such a scale, started to speak so many different languages that it became almost impossible to navigate through the endless stream of literature on Kant’s philosophy. The degree of ignorance of many modern scholars even about their outstanding predecessors, which global Kant studies owe much really is astonishing. As a result, the discussion often walks in circles, and similar arguments are independently reproduced through the decades, because researchers lack knowledge of the main results of their predecessors’s works, and even more often the desire to know about it”.

Indirect confirmation to Alexei Krouglov’s opinion was obtained within this expert survey. My attention was drawn to the fact that among the outstanding Kantian heritage researchers that we should personally pay attention in the next 10 years, the respondents only named two personalities – Salomo Friedländer, mentioned by Hiroo Nakamura, and Jürgen Habermas, named by Helmut Wagner.

Meanwhile, although the problem of “rediscovery” of the truths once formulated in Kant studies is, of course, quite serious, however, in my opinion, a situation like this has some advantages. The case is that if many researchers who are not familiar with the works of their predecessors come independently of each other to identical conclusions while studying Kant’s legacy from different angles, it is also valuable. After all, if we collect all these “rediscovered” truths, we can say that they are a universally valid core of Kant’s philosophy, equally perceived by scientists from different countries and epochs, who, however, came to an understanding, even without knowing about each other.

There is another important issue that can be solved within the framework of the proposed organizational objectives. The fact is that there are still not enough platforms for the communication between experts. Of course, much is done by Margit Ruffing and the entire team of the University of Mainz, who publish “Kant-Studien” and have created a wonderful portal to support Kant scholars worldwide (www.kant.uni-mainz.de). We can also mention the educational activities of Kant’s and Königsberg’s Friends Society (www.freunde-kants.com); Professor Steve Naragon, who has also collected a good database of sources concerning Kant’s philosophical legacy (www.manchester.edu/kant/); “Kant Studies Online” e-journal team (www.kantstudiesonline.net) and Kant societies around the world. But apparently, all this is not enough. The same applies to Russian Kant Studies, and therefore Nina Dmitrieva’s suggestion on the establishment of the Russian-language full-text resource of Kantian texts and works of Kant’s legacy scholars is especially important. This can be done, for example, on the basis of the portal www.kant-online.ru. On the example of the site of Mainz University, I can say that the help of electronic resources is invaluable.

In the line of organizational problems there is another one the scientific community should try to solve. It would be nice to finally count Kantian scholars in order to have an idea of how many of us and whether we are intellectual force. The solution to this general question would help solve more particular ones. For instance, Helmut Wagner put forward determining the most influential researchers involved in the study of Kant’s political philosophy as one of the objectives. In order to do this, one needs at least to know how many scientists there are in the world, who study various aspects of Kant’s heritage, but made a significant contribution to the study of his political philosophy.

Secondly, if we talk about research problems, the most important are the key issues of Kantian teleology, as well as its application in the fields of natural sciences and social practice. It seems that “Critique of Judgment” is now the most mysterious of Kant’s fundamental works. For example, Thomas Teufel said that concerning the systematic relationship between “Critique of Pure Reason” and “Critique of Judgment” “scholars have taken pot-shots at that over the last 30+ years, but no account that could stand the test of time has been developed”.

As for the ideas developed by Kant in the writings on philosophy of history or political philosophy, there is hardly anyone who would argue about their relevance, especially against the backdrop of the dramatic events taking place in Europe today.

 

P.S. If you have some ideas about how to bring Kant studies to a new level of development in the nearest 10 years, please, write me v.v.balanovskiy@gmail.com.